The European Union has decided that ebooks are really books, after all

Get VAT money.
Get VAT money.
Image: Reuters/Brian Snyder
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Whether you can touch it or not, a book is a book, says the European Union.

In the EU, print books enjoy a lower value-added tax (VAT) than standard goods—but not ebooks. Now the bloc’s ministers have voted to allow member countries to tax digital publications, including ebooks and audiobooks, at that same reduced rate. The economic and financial affairs council announced its approval yesterday (Oct. 2), nearly two years after the idea was first proposed.

While the standard VAT varies among EU member states, books generally get a lower rate. Luxembourg levies a 17% standard VAT but only 3% for books. In Switzerland it’s 8% vs. 2.5%, and in Ireland 23% vs. 0%.

But the average print-book VAT in Europe was 7.3%, whereas the average ebook rate was 18%, Quartz calculates, using data from a 2015 report (pdf) from the International Publishers Association and the Federation of European Publishers.

“Today’s decision is the final step to ensure that the unequal treatment of the two products—paper versus digital—becomes a thing of the past,” the European Commission writes on its site.

The new tax rates will be a temporary solution while the EU attempts to overhaul its VAT system to adapt to the digital age. Considering the ebook measure comes about a decade after the release of the Kindle, that restructuring may take a while.